The news was announced by the Academy of Motion Pictures, who wrote on Twitter: “Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American civil rights activist who famously declined Marlon Brando’s 1973 Best Actor Academy Award, dies at 75.”
The actor and activist first announced she had been diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer in a 2021 Facebook post.
In September, at a ceremony titled “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather”, she told the crowd: “I’m crossing over soon to the spirit world/ And you know, I’m not afraid to die. Because we come from a we/us/our society. We don’t come from a me/I/myself society. And we learn to give away from a very young age. When we are honoured, we give.
Littlefeather was blacklisted from Hollywood after gracing the Oscars stage on Brando’s behalf when he won Best Actor for The Godfather in 1973. In a powerful speech, Littlefeather rejected the trophy as part of the actor’s protest of Hollywood’s depictions of Native American people
The gesture was also intended to highlight the events at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where a massacre of Native Americans took place in 1890, and where protests were ongoing.
Earlier this year, 49 years after the event, the Academy issued Littlefeather with an apology.
In response, the actor expressed happiness that her mistreatment had ginally been acknowledged, stating: “This is a dream come true. It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago.
“I am so proud of each and every person who will appear on stage.”
The acting career of Littlefeather, who starred in films The Laughing Policeman, The Trial of Billy Jack and Johnny Firecloud, swiftly came to an end following her Oscars appearance. Her last role was in 1978’s Shoot the Sun Down.